Mongrel: Xanthe, Zebe's Twin
Xanthe, as you will find out, is the daredevil twin. In a time of normality that might work, but with a bunch of very alien aliens in the picture, daredevilry is much more difficult to turn into an advantage.
From: School of Human and Alien Biology, Brisbane
Secure Message Facility
Xanthe to Zebe:
You are amazing how you still so often forestall me. That prophetic Celtic thing in you, I’m sure. I’d love to help make your dream come true. Don’t stress, I’m not losing the plot. Remember that I must embroider. It’s the Viking-daughter thing in me. I started undercover last week. A couple of days before your request, in fact. But so intensely serendipitous. Or should I say synchronous? Never could tell the two apart.
Yes, in case you’re asking, at the School of Human and Alien Biology. The undercover part is where I masquerade as a cleaner. Quite okay to say where any human might want to read it, because it’s the ladies in the cage having the wool pulled over their eyes. You’ve got it, it’s the extra special cleaning job. One of the perks is this secure ComLink. I’m laughing, enjoying my completely unexpected synchronicity with my twinster, the perks, the mystery, the fluffy wool, the beauty of the moment and because I had myself implanted with a ComTooth.
Yes, I know. I can just about see you start an argument, I’m meant to be finishing my year at Zoo Hall and join you at the Reefarium. I’m sorry about your problems there. Though this request of yours is seriously interesting.
I had to beg Whit … you know my boss, Whit Smith? … to let me do it. Disappointingly, I didn’t have to beg very long or hard. I think because SoHAB has run up against the problem of not enough data for it to be worthwhile to keep it all going. The creatures are better at keeping secrets than an enigmatic oracle.
I said to Whit, what do you expect when everyone going in are either cleaners or guards? You need someone specifically to stand around and observe. Let the creatures put her through a third degree, not the poor women doing the work. And I said all that in the mock-up room, with the cleaners and guards standing around us. They nodded so wisely and agreed so hard that Whit was convinced.
Privately, I think he was petrified they’d all walk out, and that Management would then blame him for rocking the boat. Worse for him, they’d expect him to find a new lot.
You wouldn’t believe the practice runs. The demo room … you know, the sort with seating stepped to the ceiling … is mocked up to look like the inside of the cage. The cleaning squad practices in there every day, brainstorming every possible eventuality, they are so scared. Trouble is of course, the ladies aren’t human. They come up with stuff no human would think of. But that’s just my opinion.
Whit went away to talk the rest of the white coats into accepting the plan.
One of the guards said, “It’ll be wonderful for all of us to have you along, Xanthe. Thank you.”
That started them all talking.
“The unbroken staring at us sometimes is the hardest thing to bear.”
“I think because they are so non-human? I mean they shouldn’t be able to stare so wisely?”
“It’s like jockeying your hoverole with a police fly-car keeping pace overhead. You know you’re going to do something wrong just because they are watching you.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t forget you when we exit. Let’s practice the pull-back exit with Xanthe in the centre, girls.”
Am I loving it, lovely Zebe? You bet. I can hear you say I’ll be outside my demography, whatever you mean by that, Twinster. You are the firstborn, that will always be true. But I am the Viking-daughter and that will also always be true. So, I guess what I’m trying to say, I’ve started trying a different demography.
Various holos of the critters lounge about in the mock-up room. I said to Whit if he taught me the protocols for that software, I would change the display after a cleaning session to resemble what I’d seen that day. And that we’d be able to study whether the way the aliens arrange themselves has any significance.
Whit laughs like a kookaburra at my theories and suppositions. He doesn’t have an iota of romance in him and I don’t encourage him. Anyway, I’ve got my eye on someone else entirely.
Management has given me a nifty little vacuuming-wand for pretending, very light and very useless, to suck up a bit of dust here and there. Don’t worry, I let the actual cleaners with me get on with it. They know what to do.
My first day we went in, in squad formation, three guards across the front, me directly behind the centre. I’m tall and I won’t make myself small, even for a bunch of alien ladies. Guards and cleaners both scrunch up to be less noticeable, as if that would work. Alongside both sides of me a pair of cleaners. Behind me cleaners. Seven all told. Then another row of guards, six of them in total. Cleaners carried mops and buckets or vacuum cleaners. Guards carried hardwood staves. No guns or knives go in, what if the creatures get hold of them is the logic there.
The smell is indescribable as people have said and said. We all breathe through our mouths. Part of the smell is plain old Earth-origin effluent deriving from the Earth-origin creatures. I had too much to see this first session to look for the latest victims.
The alien smells are too alien to be able to say what they were like. Straight after we were out, I set Whit onto sourcing an olfactory counter. We’ll hide it in my vacuum cleaner and we’ll see.